NEW YORK — A judge sentenced Michael Douglas' son on drug charges to five years in prison Tuesday, calling it his "last chance to make it."
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman announced the sentence after hearing 31-year-old Cameron Douglas apologize, admitting that he had squandered a lot of opportunities to turn his life around.
Michael Douglas appeared at the hearing, submitting a handwritten letter to the judge. "I have some idea of the pressure of finding your own identity with a famous father," the elder Douglas wrote. "I do believe out of this adversity he will be a positive citizen. I don't want to see him break."
Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cameron Douglas' stepmother, also submitted a letter to Berman. "He is a caring, considerate, worthy human being," Zeta-Jones wrote.
Early in a sentencing hearing that stretched more than an hour, the judge was skeptical. He said he was not confident that Douglas would turn his back on drugs after pleading guilty in January to charges that he dealt large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine.
He noted that he had read at least 37 letters from family, friends and supporters who "believe he has finally bottomed out in terms of his addiction and may be ready to turn his life around."
Berman, though, said: "In my estimation, that will be a very difficult chore. I think this case and this sentencing may well be his last chance to make it."
Given the allegations, Cameron Douglas should consider himself lucky, said NBC chief legal analyst Dan Abrams. "Some people may say, 'Five years — that's a lot of time.' For this amount of drugs and these ... crimes, this is a very lenient sentence," Abrams said.
A charge of conspiracy to distribute drugs carries a mandatory 10 years in prison by law, but the judge said the government had agreed that Douglas qualified for a lesser sentence. It had been revealed at a pretrial hearing that Douglas had tried to cooperate.
Berman said letters written on Cameron's behalf failed to note the damage drugs do to society.
Berman described how Douglas had abused drugs since age 13 and noted that he had been sober in prison since last August, his longest drug-free stint since his teenage years.
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The sentence was a rejection of a request by the defense that Douglas be sentenced to time served or, at most, three and a half years in prison.
When given a chance to speak, Douglas said he had missed seeing how valuable were opportunities to overcome his addiction to heroin earlier in life.
"As a result, I squandered a lot of them," he said. "If I should be so fortunate as to have another chance, I will never squander that opportunity."
He said he felt the full support of his family for the first time in his life and missed "so dearly being involved in my true passion in life ... which is being an entertainer, putting a smile on people's faces."
Prior to the sentencing, Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas cited in a handwritten letter Cameron's childhood in a "bad marriage" and "the pressure of finding your own identity with a famous father."
AP and TODAY contributed to this report.
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